No Simple Fix for Route 724 Closure in North Coventry

NORTH COVENTRY PA – There’s a lengthy task list the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation reportedly must complete before it can re-open Route 724 at its bridge over Eckers Creek, between Catfish Lane and Sheep Hill Road in North Coventry. The bridge was closed Sept. 30 due to extensive damage caused by Tropical Storm Ida, and traffic has been detoured and re-routed around it since.

That makes for concerned constituents. They’ve been calling the offices of 26th state House District Rep. Tim Hennessey, he acknowledged this week in a post on his Facebook page, asking when the bridge will be fixed.

Hennessey, North Coventry’s elected legislator as well as majority chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said he’s been in “continuous contact” with PennDOT, pressing for an expedited solution. Problem is, he admitted in his Wednesday (Dec. 9) message, the department doesn’t foresee a re-opening until June 2022.

And being committee chair “does not allow me to waive or sidestep any regulations in place, each of which have their own rationale for being there,” Hennessey explained.

Here’s what’s ahead, he said, all of which will take time:

  • The agency must first obtain approval to seek federal emergency funding to pay the bulk of the replacement costs, an estimate of which was not offered in Hennessey’s post. To its credit, PennDOT has already “sought out an engineering firm to design the new bridge” and speed up its construction, Hennessey wrote;
  • Next, it may need to obtain temporary construction easements;
  • Also required are separate federal approvals, because the bridge is located within the boundaries of the Laurel Locks National Historical District. As a result, PennDOT must assure federal agencies the bridge work will not compromise any historically-identified assets;
  • Additionally, PennDOT is applying to waive specific in-stream restrictions for the creek that normally prohibit any disturbance there between March 1 and June 15. The waiver’s needed if bridge construction work is scheduled to start in March;
  • Finally, waterway permits to authorize construction are also being sought from the state Department of Environmental Protection. For them, engineers must provide satisfactory reports about the hydraulic effects on the stream before and after the replacement.

“With all these regulatory requirements, what initially seemed like ‘a small bridge replacement’ can become a regulatory nightmare,” Hennessey conceded.

The Route 724 bridge over Eckers Creek was built in 1927, PennDOT reported. The single span, two-lane reinforced concrete slab bridge is 18-feet long, 26-feet wide, and carries more than 7,700 vehicles a day.

For the duration of the closure, drivers on 724 are being directed to use Route 100, U.S. Route 422 and River Bridge Road to circumvent the disruption. Local access is being maintained up to the bridge closure. Travelers are advised to allow extra time when moving through the area, because backups and delays may occur.

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